WEST HAVEN — In the second meeting of the season between Cheshire and Watertown-Pomperaug, the Rams were looking for a different result. Instead, Watertown-Pomperaug goaltender Ryan Fleming made sure the outcome was exactly the same.
Turning aside 35 shots, including 14 in the third period, Fleming led second-seeded Watertown-Pomperaug to a 2-0 victory over third-seeded Cheshire in the Southern Connecticut Conference Division II semifinals at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven Thursday evening.
Watertown-Pomperaug, ranked tenth in the GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll, returns to the SCC final for the second consecutive year. The Indians will play Branford, which beat Guilford in a shootout in the other semifinal, on Saturday at 4 p.m. in West Haven.
“The guys made it easy in front of me,” Fleming said. “They cleared everyone out of the way and the shots came from the outside. They did a great job.”
The Indians (16-3-2) used a pair of special teams goals to return to the title game as they scored on both the power play and while short-handed.
“If you look at our practices, more than half of the time we are working on special teams,” Watertown-Pomperaug coach Vic Vicenzi III said. “Everyone is going to be tight, so we have to separate. Special teams were big for us tonight.”
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the second period with their second special teams goal of the game. On the power play, Harrison McCormack slid a pass to Sean Dunfee, who spun around in the left faceoff circle and beat Cheshire goaltender Nicholas Maringola (22 saves) to the short side with 2:08 to go in the middle period.
“We have had over 20 kids graduate the past two years,” Vicenzi said. “We have had to work to replace them. We are not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. A lot of teams get geared up to play us. The boys have handled it well.”
The goal erased what was a solid second period for the Rams (15-5-1) as they had 12 shots on goal and a shot by Charlie Petit ring off the post 1:05 into the period. James Ilnicki and Ben O’Connor each had shots turned aside from the point, and Evan Veivia was denied in front by Fleming as the Rams could not take advantage of a 4-minute power play opportunity.
“I thought that was the biggest part of the game,” Cheshire coach Anthony Giusto said. “They have a solid defense. I thought if we had popped a goal in there, it could have been a different game.”
Watertown-Pomperaug scored the only goal of the first period and used its special teams to do so. With the Indians short-handed, James Moaddel sent Troy Harwell down the left wing and Harwell ripped a shot to the top right corner for a 1-0 lead with 1:23 remaining in the opening period.
“That was one of the breakdowns we had in the defensive zone,” Giusto said. “You give a guy like him (Harwell) an opening and he usually finds the back of the net. We have to do a better job slowing him down.”
The opening period saw a combined 14 shots with the two teams putting a handful of quality shots on net.
Harwell had Watertown’s first golden opportunity in front when he was denied by Maringola with 1:55 left in the period. Cheshire came right back 25 seconds later as Niklas Vasiljevs was turned aside by Fleming in front.
Player of the Game
Ryan Fleming – Watertown Pomperaug senior goaltender made 35 saves in the shutout, including 14 in the final period.
“He (Fleming) played great. He did everything he could out there. The key was the play in front of him. We were able to keep everything to the outside. They had to earn everything.”
— Watertown-Pomperaug coach Vic Vicenzi